Enveloped in Pessimism? Or Is the Future an Exciting Horizon?

January 3, 2013; Source: The Government We Deserve

The Urban Institute’s Gene Steuerle may be one of the few people we know who seems to have found reasons for optimism in the wake of the fiscal cliff brouhaha. It isn’t that he is congratulating Congress as a wonderful avatar of democracy in action, but he suggests that the nation has plenty of positive things going for it. “[W]e instead need to pause and reflect on our graces and blessings,” Steuerle writes, “even as we confront the obstacles we have placed in the way of realizing our potential.”

Steuerle reminds his readers that the U.S. is “richer than almost any country anywhere and anytime,” though not growing as fast as many people might want or expect. He suggests that we should not ignore evidence of societal improvements, not only an average household GDP of $125,000, but “ever-better health care,” increases in life expectancy, and improving quality of durable goods such as computers, telecommunications, and automobiles. With projected increasing household incomes, he thinks that it is possible to make more progress on budget issues much more easily than the dysfunctional political debates implied in the last few months.

Steuerle is enthusiastically optimistic about economic growth, cheering factors such as “a long-established history of entrepreneurial ingenuity; a flexible labor force; the world’s most thriving set of charities, associations, and universities; and, for all our petty bickering, a people united by belief in our republic, and not, as in so many countries, divided by clan or tribe or religion. Even our barriers of race and gender have been falling away, much to the benefit of everyone, not just those who suffer from discrimination.”

Steuerle almost sounds like a believer in American exceptionalism no less than President Obama, but he is aware—as is the president, probably—that the challenges of deficits, unemployment, and fiscal stagnation “threaten us at a time when our political institutions appear to have languished and gone into decline.” Even there, he suggests that the “democratic experiment” of the U.S. is young, vibrant and…fully capable of transformation. He is, of course, not the only one pointing this out. As NPQ Editor-in-Chief Ruth McCambridge mentioned in her editor’s notes earlier in the week, The Nation’s John Nichols this week harkened back to the greatest aspirations of this country when he mused that this may be the year to “begin the world over,” quoting from Thomas Paine’s seminal classic pamphlet Common Sense.

As Steuerle references charities as one of the positive underpinnings of our society, we now ask NPQ Newswire readers whether you are optimistic about the future like Steuerle, seeing opportunities for progress and growth despite the past month’s serial political debacles? Or are you more pessimistic, viewing this nation, even without having totally gone over the cliff, on a path of inexorable decline? Also, given what you have seen out of the nonprofit sector during the election and the fiscal cliff debates, do you think charities constitute supporting evidence for a feeling of optimism or a cloud of pessimism?—Rick Cohen